Maximum Ride

Maximum Ride by James Patterson

girl with wings book cover

BIBLIO: 2007,New York: Warner Vision Books, Ages 12 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0316067959

Maximum Ride is a series written by the highly popular (at every age) James Patterson. It follows the story of six genetically mutated humans, Max, Fang, Iggy, Gasman, Nudge, and Angel. The genes used? Avian, so they all sport a set of wings. Of course being such valuable experiments The School, the mad scientists that created them, are seeking to regain these young teenagers. At their bidding they have other genetically modified humans, Erasers, on the hunt with their werewolf-ish features. Scared, without their adopted father Jeb to guide them, the Flock flee from place to place. This thrilling beginning leads the reader to a world of growing up, emotions, and what family really means. I would recommend this series to 7th grade- 10th grade girls and boys, I would even lean toward encouraging boys to read this for the action and witty dialogue, all with minimal romantic themes.

More titles in the Series:
boy with wings coveryellow cover, girl and boygirl with wings book covergirl with wings, orange book coverblue book cover, boy with wingsbook cover, pink text, girlgold text book cover, girl with wingsred text, book cover, shadow

Make Lemonade

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff

 lemonade book cover

BIBLIO: 1993,New York: Henry Holt and Company, Ages 13 to 16.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Young Adult book
ISBN: 978-0805080704

By writing this novel in poetry the story gains a whole lot of meaning. The short entries with breaks and lack of grammar and a distinctive vernacular show the disorganization and scrambled emotions of the characters. Narrated by LaVaughn, a fourteen year old girl, the reader peeks into the unfortunate life of Jolly, a seventeen year old mother, and her two children Jeremy and Jilly. LaVaughn takes the babysitting job as a way to earn money for college and after visiting for the first time, LaVaughn has more than enough incentive to get out of the neighborhood. Living in squalor and struggling paycheck to paycheck the small family gets turned upside down when Jolly loses her job. Despite all of this LaVaughn bonds closely with this little family, caring tenderly for the children and their fragile mother, be it through storytelling or bathtime she is determined to help. Unable to find work LaVaughn convinces Jolly to “take hold” by returning to school with the specialized Moms Up GED program. A unique look at Jolly’s hardship is seen through the contrasting bleeding heart LaVaughn and her tough love mother (through LaVaughn’s conversations with her and her occasional run-ins with Jolly). Several unexpected things happen, including “lemon bloms” and Jolly actually looking to change her family’s life. A heartwarming problem novel truly shows that you can “make lemonade” no matter the circumstances. This novel works through issues typically seen in inner-city communities like poverty, illiteracy, absentee fathers, pipe dreams of college, and picking oneself up again and again. I would recommend this book to girls from the latter half of 8th grade up until early 11th grade based on the content and comprehension levels.

Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

pig running book cover

BIBLIO: 2005, Candlewick Press, ages 6 to 8, $12.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
FORMAT: Early Reader.
ISBN: 0-7636-2270-2

Mercy Watson to the Rescue is about Mercy the pig’s antics one night. Her parents Mr. and Mrs. Watson tuck her in and she gets scared of the dark and runs into their bedroom and they are dreaming when the bed starts to fall through the floor because of their weight. They all wake up in a panic. Mercy the pig, thinking about toast, jumps off the bed leaving the Watsons stranded. She searches for toast, disappointed when there is none she goes to the neighbors’ house, Eugenia and Baby Lincoln, in search of sugar cookies and affection from Baby. Lurking at the window she scares Baby and Eugenia calls the firefighters telling them there is an emergency because they think Mercy is a monster. Ned and Lorenzo the fire fighters arrive to see Eugenia chasing Mercy but then they hear the Watsons calling for help. They are able to rescue the couple before the bed crashes through the floor. Everyone celebrates Mercy’s [inadvertent] success by eating her favorite food, toast.
The gouache artwork by Chris Van Dusen adds a humorous and lively feel to the book. The interspersing of the pictures adds a lot to the story and helps to reaffirm what is happening. The cartoonish style and detail draw the eye.
This book is great as a classroom tool because it addresses literary topics like vocabulary, sentence structure, repetition, plot development, etc. It also provides openings for discussions such as fear of the dark, being judged, “Pigs should not live in houses”, being a hero, and social interactions.

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Zel

Zel by Donna Jo Napoli

girl with leaves book cover

BIBLIO: 1996 Dutton Children’s Books/ Penguin Books , ages 12 to 15, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Middle Reader.
ISBN: 0-525-45612-0

This is a retelling of the classic fairytale Rapunzel. The narrative switches between the three main characters Zel (Rapunzel), Konrad, and Mother (the witch). The plot starts a few day prior to Zel’s thirteenth birthday when she and Mother go to the marketplace. There Zel meets Konrad at the smithy’s when she is admiring and comforting his horse Meta. Konrad gives Zel the gift of a goose egg and they become smitten with each other. Mother, sensing that there is this new part of Zel’s life is threatened and whisks the young girl off to a hidden tower. Konrad searches for the next two years for the girl he fell in love with at first sight and Zel longs for the boy she found so charming. The plot reaches a turning point approximately fifty pages from the end of the novel as the end of the two years approaches. Konrad has finally found his mystery girl, mentally disturbed after months and months of isolation. They spend the night together and Konrad promises to return and free Rapunzel. Mother comes for her daily visit and Rapunzel reveals that she loves a young man and stands up to her mother. Mother uses her witch’s power over the plants to banish Rapunzel to a beachy region far away from their home in the Alps. Konrad comes back to find the witch and jumps and lands on thorns becoming blind. For the next three years the lovers are still separated, Rapunzel gives birth to twin girls and Konrad resumes his search while still blind. He eventually is able to travel to Rapunzel’s new home and they reunite and Rapunzel cries into his eyes, healing them.
This novel closely follows the classic, gruesome version of Rapunzel. The narrative is split into three parts, Zel’s, Konrad’s, and Mother’s. There are eight parts, four of which focus on each character and their interpretation of rejection, loneliness, obsession, and love. Napoli works very hard to create layers of reality and is skillfully subtle in some of her ideas such as puberty and physical maturity, religion, abuse, and morality. She is able to draw out some of these themes because the tale of Rapunzel is quite familiar and reinterpreting it can mean changing such details. This book would be a good suggestion for reluctant readers because of the basic plot. It is also a fair book to read individually.

Ender’s Game

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender in a spacesuit book cover

BIBLIO: 1977 Tor/ Tom Doherty Associates LLC, ages 13 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-7653-5070-2

Ender’s Game is a book set in the future on a very different Earth. The International Fleet trains children in the hopes to fend off the Buggers, an alien race that tried to invade twice before. The story follows the young genius Ender Wiggin as he goes through battle school and command school in space. There is a subplot that follows Valentine and Peter Wiggin as they influence politics on Earth. The plot cuts between the mind of Ender, conversations Colonel Graff and other adults, and the subplot of the other Wiggin children.
Ender struggles as an outsider, still managing to make friends along the way such as Alai, Bean, Petra, Dink, and others. He has to fight in battles and in simulations, winning every one along the way. The twist is that when he plays the simulator game Ender does not realize that he is actually controlling a real fleet. The reason being that Ender is empathetic but competitive and if he knew that is was really he would be crushed.
This book written well and great for students who want a challenge. It would also be great as a way to examining topics such as population, children soldiers, empathy, competitiveness, etc.

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The parallel series:
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Shadows Alive (no cover available)

Ruby Holler

Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech

cabin in the woods book cover

BIBLIO: 2002 Joanna Cotler Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, ages 9 through 12, $16.89.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-06-027733-5


This book is about twin orphan Dallas and Florida. They are thirteen years old have been in the foster system since infancy. Bouncing into families’ homes and right back to the Boxton Creek children’s home is the only cycle the twins have ever known. They reveal some of the terrible realities they experienced regarding bad foster parents and the home they always return to.
Before long, Tiller and Sairy, an older couple bring them back to their home in Ruby Holler. Slowly the twins realize what it’s like to be loved and cared for unconditionally. Although they talk about running away they each end up on separate adventures. Florida and Tiller adventure down the river and Dallas and Sairy take a hike over the hills. Through all of it the four characters realize that Ruby Holler is truly their home and their doubts get answered along the way.
The caretakers of the Boxton’s children’s home try to stir up trouble trying to find the treasures that Tiller and Sairy hide in the woods of their home. Z, their neighbor, acts as a double agent until the older couple and the twins return. Other troubles stir up the plot such as both sets of adventurers get lost, Tiller’s heart attack, the twins trying to run away and acting like goofballs, and plenty more.
This book, while sweet and whimsical addresses some serious questions and topics children might not be aware of and connects to them in a personal way. It talks about orphans and the corrupted system, aging among parents, coping with nightmares and bad memories, the confusing reality of raising children at all stages of development, being your own person, along with any number of extra things.
Uniquely, this novel does not have a resolute ending. It does not reveal if Z is the twins’ father, or if the twins got adopted for sure, or what happens to the Trepids and the children in the home. After all, that is what the real world is like.

Catherine Called Birdy

Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

girl writing book cover

BIBLIO: 1994 Clarion Books/ Houghton Mifflin Publishers, ages 12 through 15, $13.95.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-395-68186-3

​As a medieval historical fiction story this book is highly entertaining and fits closely with the norms of several hundred years ago. Written as a diary the reader sees the world through the eyes of the mischievous young Catherine, affectionately called Birdy. These are thirteen year old Birdy’s entries for an entire year and accounts all of the exciting feasts and dreary days. Most importantly she writes about the numerous suitors she must meet and the inevitable reality of an arranged marriage and the lady’s duties that accompany her emerging adulthood. Through her the reader gets to meet some dynamic characters, some of which she loves and some of which she loathes, such as her brothers Thomas, Robert, and Edward. Her mother, father, Uncle George, and her caretaker Morwenna. Not to mention Birdy’s realistic and relatable friendships with Perkins, Gerd, and Aelis, and the descriptions of adventures she has with them that often leads to scolding. All of this despite the fact that she wishes to run away and take up any other occupation besides wife. It is easy to fall in love with this sensitive and spunky young girl; to connect with her hopes, dreams, and interests because they are very much like a modern child’s. Her chores however accurately depict those of the time including spinning, sewing, and making disgusting ointments for healing. There is never a dull entry, even the ones that are one word long are quippy and worth the read. We see her antics of burning down the privy, watching a hanging, the birth of a sister, and rescuing a circus bear to name a few of the most memorable. Overall this book is a great way to delve into the history of the medieval times and to gain some perspective as to what it would be like to be a child in a time that was such an oppressing time to be a child and a girl at that.